Cedaredge native Keith Loucks has published a novel about adventure and survival -- a book that entertains as it educates, and one that examines deeper questions of living Christian faith in a dangerously fallen world.
In the 405-page novel titled "I Wish I Had An Orange," the normal, everyday American life is reduced in a moment to the level of Third World deprivation when a nuclear device is exploded in the upper stratosphere 30 miles above. The resulting electromagnetic pulse makes junk of the nation's electric grid and of every device that uses unshielded circuitry -- everything from multi-megawatt power stations to hearing aids. Society, deprived of its much taken-for-granted source of inexpensive energy, is thrown into chaos. Civil order dissolves and what emerges is a society based on pure physical survival.
As the book explains, "Abject poverty had become their newfound situation. True, there would be many who might survive because there are always survivors. Some would survive because they were thieves and because they had little compassion for their fellow man."
But one man, the main character, Gene "Shaky" Tucker, driven by his sense of duty to family, finds that the best tools for survival against the odds in this brave new world are the outdoor living skills he had learned from childhood, and his faith in Jesus Christ.
Loucks is a Delta County native. His great-grandfather first came here and settled for a time at Paonia in 1892. The novel includes scenes that Loucks himself has experienced growing up on Cedar Mesa in the 1950s and '60s.
Loucks has enjoyed a successful, 42-year career in real estate. During 30 of those years, he also worked doing catastrophe damage estimates at natural disaster scenes across the U.S. -- from Cali-fornia's North Ridge earthquake to hurricanes Andrew and Sandy. Loucks did not work the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina. However, people he knows who did work that event felt the real need to carry sidearms during the social chaos of its aftermath.
In the course of his career, Loucks has witnessed people living in extreme deprivation and reduced to complete helplessness by only a temporary, short-term lack of basic necessities. "I have seen what happens to people ... even when help was available in small amounts temporarily," he said.
"I have seen people just sitting on the curb waiting for the Red Cross to come by and give them bottled water and a sandwich," he explained. "What I learned is that people are woefully unprepared for catastrophe."
The disaster events he has witnessed placed people in temporary want. The lights eventually came back on and society began moving again. But he wondered about a disaster event that would last long term.
"People can band together for short periods," he says. But the population dynamics of a society deprived of necessities including food for extended periods "changes the nature of people."
He took a year making a specific study about the effects that might come from a long-term catastrophe -- one that could disable the electric grid for a year and longer. His book envisages a human-caused EMP event that shuts down all electricity. But nature can do the same thing with a large meteorite or a solar flare that reaches Earth, Loucks explained.
"The book is written partially as a prophecy of those events," Loucks said. An event like that lasting for a year could, by some estimates, lead to the death of up to 80 percent of the American population, Loucks said, referencing his studies on the subject.
"My whole purpose was to write a prophecy from that angle."
And there is a personal angle to the story as well. Loucks, a Christian, examines his own and others' faith in the novel. Its main character, Gene, is forced time and time again to confront the disconnect between the teaching of his Christian faith and the demands placed upon him for survival in a lawless society.
In the book, after locating two of his grown children in a neighboring city, Gene begins an astounding trek on foot east, 300 miles across a mighty mountain range, to locate his other son. That odyssey and the ordeal of his winter trek back west to home territory sets the stage for many of Gene's encounters with a world hostile to his Christian faith.
Loucks said a purpose of his book is to "explain the basic faith of evangelical Christianity. You meet lots of really good, nice people who just don't know Jesus Christ. If a man has faith in God and in Jesus Christ, it should permeate his entire being." That is Gene's struggle.
Early in the story, Gene talks with the guard at a refugee compound. The guard says, "I've always tried to do good and not harm other people. In the end, I can't say I see much results other than momentary happiness for them or for me. I think a good man ought to go to heaven if he's been good enough."
Gene replies, "How do you know if you've been good enough?"
The guard says, "I just think a fella ought to be rewarded for the things he does good."
Gene then explains, "The Bible doesn't say if we do good things we will go to heaven. What it says is if a person believes in the Son, he will go to heaven."
Loucks goes even deeper in his examination of faith set against a hostile world. A hundred pages after the soul-winning conversation with the camp guard, Gene's remaining faith in man's inherent goodness gets the severest test of all. After being forced in self-defense to kill another man, he reflects, "Maybe man wasn't so inherently good. With the thought on his mind, he laid back to rest for the balance of the night."
While on the cross-mountain journey back home, Gene's daughter, Bonnie, and some allies have formed a corps of marshals that goes to work trying to restore social order with the help of a local judge who schools them in legal procedure. The judge hands capital punishments to the lawless offenders who the lady marshals deliver to his court, subdued and hog tied.
Notable in this saga of hardship and struggle, of good and evil, and of faith and renewal are Loucks' female characters. From Jessie, Gene's wife who is a prayer warrior more effective than she realizes, to Bonnie and her marshal friends, the women are resolved and strong. They are portrayed as smarter, more courageous, and as far better marksmen than the renegade males they confront who have turned to looting and plunder as soon as society's eyes had been turned away.
Loucks' story moves toward a concluding epilogue that justifies Gene's faith in family and in God, and that inspires a reader's thoughts of hope.
Besides being a treatise on his own observations and experiences of people and society, and in addition to being a testament to his evangelical Christian faith, Loucks' book provides some entertaining and educational how-to tips on being prepared.
"It is better to do something to be prepared," Loucks said. His book shares some ideas with readers.
The book offers a 10-point list of survival supplies that anyone would be glad to have even if only stranded overnight at home with the lights out. There are instructions for a real mountain man on how to make a pair of snowshoes from de-thorned wild rose shafts. And along the way, readers will get an education, or a refresher course, in ways of the wild -- tips from procuring a wild game meal without the use of firearms to game tracking and wilderness shelter.
Loucks even includes an account from his youth on how to enjoy a plentiful, bone-free, and tasty meal complements of the lowly sucker fish.
Loucks explained there was one other inspiration that led him to launch his new career as an author.
"I just wanted to tell the story," he said. "It's been fun."
Loucks said he has lots of stories about growing up in Delta County and is considering a collection of those accounts.
Copies of the book are available by calling Loucks at 970-250-4800. A Google search on the book's title will also give results. There is also a site. It is: http://iwishihadanorange.com.
Two accidents involving school property are proving costly for Delta County Joint School District, district business manager Jim Ventrello reported last week. Both incidents involved uninsured drivers, forcing the school district to file claims with its insurance provider and pay deductibles of $10,000.